Director: Ferris Lin
Plot: Johnnie To is one of Hong Kong's foremost filmmakers. But this time he becomes the protagonist in this painstaking documentary exploring him and his Boundless world of film. A film student from Beijing and avid Johnnie To fan, Ferris Lin boldly approached To with a proposal to document the master director for his graduation thesis. This is the result.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
What a way to do a thesis feature. Ferris Lin, a graduate of the Hong Kong Academy of the Arts, tails the great Johnnie To, documenting his life on and off the movie set, as both try to capture the lost spirit of Hong Kong cinema. Boundless, the product of Lin's exploits, is a remarkable documentary, assured in its execution as it is insightful in its exploration of To's views on cinema, society and also politics.
Lin's film gets up close and personal with To, sometimes too close for comfort as the director spews vulgarities on set when the film crew incurs his wrath. Constantly hot-tempered when things don't go right, To is a picture of intensity and passion. He demands the best from everybody, if only to make great films.
While he has had an on-off career, albeit with more hits than misses, To remains to be one of the most accomplished Chinese filmmakers of our time, with works such as The Mission (1999), Election (2005), Exiled (2006), Drug War (2012) and many more, contributing valuably to the HK cinema landscape, even as that landscape has lost its sheen post-2000s.
HK cinema is not what it used to be, but it soldiers on, but for how long? And in what direction? To asks difficult questions of the worrisome filmmaking climate, and local audience's reception to his (and his peers') works. He is also fearful of Hong Kong's uncertain future, and critical of Mainland China's financial pull as a filmmaking hub in exchange for the lack of creative autonomy.
For large parts, Boundless will excite film students, professionals in the field and enthusiasts. I might even say that this documentary will inspire them to believe in their craft, to continue striving for their passion. Through Lin's work here, we have a better appreciation of To's vision as a filmmaker, why he constantly pushes himself and his crew, and his commitment to nurture a new generation of young filmmakers to fly the Hong Kong flag.
Not many filmmakers in the world marry the now of making films and the future of filmmaking. So as far as To is concerned, he only wants Hong Kong cinema to flourish again, to return to a new set of heights, re-established by a new guard of auteurs.
Verdict: This insightful documentary gets up close and personal with respected director Johnnie To, and the result leaves you pining for the good old days of Hong Kong cinema.
GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
Click here to go back to Central Station.